Seahawks Free Agency 2011: John Schneider and Undrafted Free Agents

Seattle GM John Schneider recently revealed to SI's Peter King that Seahawks still had 20-22 'draftable players' on their board after "Mr Irrelevant" was selected in this year's Draft. A lot of people would scoff at this notion because UDFAs, by and large, are simply practice squad fodder for teams and don't make a real impact. For most teams, the undrafted free agent rookies are a bit of an afterthought to the Draft, -- guys you can bring in and fill spots in camp and hope will turn into a diamond in the rough.

I don't think this is how John Schneider views this group at all; on the contrary I think Schneider revels in the idea of signing and developing these guys and he goes to great lengths to do so. You've seen the Seahawks make 285 odd player transactions in the past season and even bring players down from the CFL. They've given tryouts to former Draft busts Mike Williams and Reggie Williams during camp last season, and have taken chances on injury-plauged players. It seems that Schneider will leave no rock unturned in his mission to build his team here, and that's exciting as a fan. I don't think they tinker for tinkering's sake -- I think they have specific roles in mind down to the 53rd guy and they're going to be exhaustive in their search to fill those spots with the best available talent.

Schneider came up in Green Bay from 2002-2010 as a Personnel Analyst to Packers GM Ted Thompson. This job was steeped in player scouting and the work he did there undoubtedly had a part in building the Super Bowl winning team the Packers currently have. It's unclear how involved Schneider was in the UDFA selections but at worst, he witnessed the importance Green Bay put on scouting and polishing these undrafted free agents.  

These efforts have paid off for Green Bay -- their roster is littered with UDFA contributors, and many of them played a key role on their 2010 Championship team: Pro-Bowler DB Tramon Williams, DT Cullen Jenkins, RB Ryan Grant, CB Sam Shields, OLB Frank Zombo, DB Jarrett Bush and FB John Kuhn, just to name a few. I don't think it's luck -- the Packers front office steadfastly and tenaciously pursues these players with key roles in mind. As Founder of AllGreenBayPackers.com and Packers Analyst for DraftTek.com Jersey Al put it,"Throughout the Green Bay Packers storied history, their GMs and scouting departments have worked endlessly to find those undrafted hidden gems that other teams may have missed. They yearn for players that can make the roster at an inexpensive cost and contribute to the team. Ted Thompson and his scouts work very hard at looking for undrafted gems. Employing less expensive UDFAs is just one way he has been able to keep the Packer's salary structure and overall expenditures at manageable levels."

I have to think that was a philosophy that John Schneider inherited.

Back to the Seahawks' plans for rookie free agency and what we can expect. Schneider said, "There are three avenues we're all going to have. Your own free agents, free agents from other teams, and the rookie undrafted guys. When the draft ended for us, we still had 20 to 22 draftable players on our board. We're moving toward a younger team, so obviously those guys are a very attractive option for us if we can get some of them.''

Carroll and Schneider have preached the "get younger" thing time and again so I think it's a pretty important goal for them in this roster rebuild. They inherited what some people called the worst roster in the NFL, and in one short year, only 15-25 or so players from the old regime are still around so it's apparent they mean business. Additionally, they have 23 (or so) free agents right now and a large chuck of those guys will not be back. This means there will be roster spots to fill -- and a good amount of them.

Furthermore, the camp rosters for this season will be expanded, by 10, to 90 players, and I expect the Seahawks will not hesitate to fill that quota. A large part of the players invited to camp to make up that deficit will be these undrafted free agents. So which positions can you expect?

Schneider: "There ...are rookie free agents that we're excited about at the corner position, and so we'd like to get those guys rolling in here too. And, there's a safety out there that we're really excited about as a rookie free agent, and another linebacker. I mean there's a whole group."

The Seahawks signed 15 UDFAs last season and 4 of them have stuck on the practice squad: DB James Brindley, LB Joe Pawelek, DB Josh Pinkard, and CB Marcus Brown. My gut right now is that number will increase this season, though it's impossible to predict.

I don't even know how many guys they've brought in for tryouts, but several have caught on. WR Mike Williams and WR Brandon Stokley were brought in off their couches and plugged into starting roles in games last season. I think you can expect more of the same this season -- you'll see roster-cut players from other teams invited to Seattle; you'll see washed up or busted out players invited to try out; you'll see some completely random dudes off the street for all I know. Hell, they might even hold open tryouts for the general public a la the Eagles and Vince Papele.

Here's how Schneider framed the plan:

"Our first order of business is rookie free agency. We're really excited for that to take place. You know, we had some guys on our draft board that are rookie free agents, so we feel like we can address some pretty cool spots there. So, as soon as they turn the lights on with that, we're going to hit that running very hard.

Obviously, we're going to address our QB situation, and we need to address our defensive line in a big way. So, you can't fix everything in one draft. You gotta put together, two, three of these things and then you know, start supplementing and have a real nice, young core of you know, young, tough, smart, competitive, fast guys. Also, this is going to be something where we're able to take a chance here and there on guys.... that may have some character issues and that sort of thing and that's when you can really start hitting on some cool stuff.

We really wanted to establish our front offensively, we need to work on our defensive line, we'll probably have to do that through rookie free agency, unrestricted free agency when it begins, and we're always aggressive looking at trades, speaking with people regarding the availability of their players, so yeah."

Man, I love this front office.

"So, you can't fix everything in one draft. You gotta put together, two, three of these things and then you know, start supplementing and have a real nice, young core of you know, young, tough, smart, competitive, fast guys."

This is what the Packers did and sure, it certainly helps to have Aaron Rodgers (and the Hawks won't find themselves in the Super Bowl without an elite QB if you follow the odds), but Green Bay, as of late, consistently fields one of the younger teams in the NFL. I wouldn't be surprised to see Seattle follow suit.

"Also, this is going to be something where we're able to take a chance here and there on guys.... that may have some character issues and that sort of thing and that's when you can really start hitting on some cool stuff."

I don't know if he meant that they can start to do this down the line, say, in two or three years, or just later this season, but once they're able to build a locker room capable of handling guys like that I have no doubt they'll start to give character cast-offs a shot. If anyone can convince a guy to get his shit together I have to think it's Pete Carroll. I went to the Win Forever coaching clinic and the man is simply inspiring and energizing. You just never know who he'd be able to get through to. And that's when you can really start hitting on some cool stuff, as JS puts it. 

It's not going to happen overnight but it's fun to see what they're building. Look for an exciting period of free agency, hopefully starting this week. Look for some UDFAs to surprise people. Look for some randos to be brought in. Look for rookies and youngsters making plays on the field. Look for the team to get younger, faster, and stronger -- and more explosive and fun to watch. 


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